Garden of the Gods#1 in Best Things To Do in Colorado Springs
It's easy to see how this natural landmark earned such an ethereal title: These magnificent red rock formations look as though deities themselves could've carved them. However, the sandstone pillars are, in fact, the work of geological activity along a natural fault line, as well as rainfall over millennia. You can learn about the garden's formations at the visitor and nature center, which houses numerous informative displays and hosts daily nature presentations. You are welcome to explore the park on your own time (either on foot or by bike); the visitor and nature center also offers guided hikes, as well as bike, Jeep, trolley and Segway tours (prices vary by vehicle and tour length). Or, if you're looking for a more authentic "Wild West" experience, you can reserve your spot on a guided horseback tour offered by Academy Riding Stables.
Because there is no admission fee if you are exploring the Garden of the Gods on your own; previous visitors recommended returning to the park throughout your time in Colorado Springs to see the rocks at different times of day. They also offered high praise for the knowledgeable staff at the visitor and nature center. Others were pleased to find out that many of the trails are paved – meaning those using strollers and wheelchairs can still access the park. If you don't want to deal with the landmark's heavy crowds, plan to arrive before 10 a.m. on a weekday.
The Garden of the Gods is located about 6 miles northwest of central Colorado Springs; the park is open every day between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m. The visitor and nature center opens its doors from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the winter months. Like the park, the visitor and nature center is free to visit. For more information, check out the Garden of the Gods website.
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#2 Pikes Peak
Rising 8,000 feet above Colorado Springs, Pikes Peak – aka "America's Mountain" – has been beckoning to visitors since the 19th century. Gold brought the pioneers here, but it was the richness of the mountain's natural beauty that motivated them to stay. The views from this pink granite mountain were so stunning, they inspired Katharine Lee Bates to pen the words to the patriotic song, "America the Beautiful." Today, the famous Colorado Gold Rush slogan, "Pikes Peak or Bust," now applies to tourists: Every year, thousands of hikers tackle the climb in search of spectacular photo ops and adrenaline junkies get their fair share of thrills along the winding 19-mile Pikes Peak Highway.
No matter how you choose to reach the summit, travelers say that you would be remiss to miss a visit to Pikes Peak. But a word to the wise: You may want to skip the drive if you're afraid of heights, as recent visitors described the trek as a bit scary – though almost all are in agreement that the trip is worth it for the panoramic views. Even if you're not afraid of heights, you should drive carefully as weather conditions may make the road hazardous and the climbing altitude can make drivers feel dizzy or lightheaded. Fuel up before you start your journey – there are no gas stations along the scenic highway. You'll also want to set aside at least two to three hours to make the drive. Note: If you're visiting during peak hours (8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.), you'll be required to take a complimentary shuttle up to the summit. Shuttles provide round-trip transportation to three parking lots. Even if you're not required to take the shuttle, many visitors suggest using it to fully enjoy the views. Because of the altitude changes, you'll want to pack layers for your journey.
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